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Seizure triggers for people with photosensitive epilepsy

Here are some things that could trigger seizures.

Ceiling fans 

Light seen through a fast-rotating ceiling fan may trigger a seizure. Using a slow-rotating fan would reduce this risk.

Cinema films

Watching films, including 3D films, at the cinema doesn’t pose a risk in itself. However, some films contain images such as flashing or flickering lights, which could trigger a seizure.

In the UK, the British Board of Film Classification states that it is up to the film makers and distributors to identify works in which there may be problems with flashing lights. They should then make sure that, if necessary, warnings are given to viewers about this. However, there is no guarantee that this will always happen.

Interactive whiteboards

Looking at an interactive whiteboard is not likely to trigger a seizure, unless the material shown contains flashing or flickering lights, or contrasting patterns.

Lighting

Fluorescent strip lights and light bulbs may trigger a seizure if they flicker because they are faulty. Otherwise, they should not cause you a problem.

Flashing Christmas tree lights

Flashing Christmas tree lights that are put up by public organisations in the UK, such as local councils, have to comply with health and safety regulations. They should not flash at a rate that could trigger seizures in most people with photosensitive epilepsy

Christmas tree lights that are sold to the public do not have to comply with health and safety regulations. They could flash at any rate, so there is the possibility that they could cause you to have a seizure.

Flashing novelty badges

Novelty badges do not have to comply with health and safety regulations, so they could flash at any rate. There is the possibility that these could cause you to have a seizure.

Red flashing bicycle lights

Red flashing bicycle lights (light emitting diodes, or LEDS) have triggered seizures in a small number of people. This has happened when they were very close to the lights, setting them up.

Strobe lights 

You may come across strobe lights in places like night clubs, discos and theme parks.

In the UK, the flash rate of strobe lights is restricted to a maximum of four flashes a second by the Health and Safety Executive. This rate is considered to be safe for most people. However, some people with photosensitive epilepsy may still find strobe lights could trigger a seizure.

Patterns

Some high contrast or moving patterns can trigger seizures in some people with photosensitive epilepsy. Here are some examples.

  • Black and white stripes
  • Some patterned materials and wallpapers
  • Large areas of floor and ceiling tiles with high contrast lines
  • Looking down a moving escalator

Sunlight

Being in sunlight is unlikely to trigger a seizure if you have photosensitive epilepsy. However, looking directly at certain patterns connected with sunlight could trigger a seizure. Here are some examples.

  • Sunlight through slatted blinds
  • Sunlight through trees, viewed from a moving vehicle
  • Sunlight reflected off moving water
  • Sunlight through moving leaves 
  • Sunlight through railings, as you move past them

Sun beds

Sun beds may trigger a seizure if the tubes flicker because they are faulty. Otherwise, they should not cause you a problem.

Wind turbines

In the UK, the flicker frequency of wind turbines on wind farms should be limited to 3 Hz. This flicker rate is unlikely to trigger a seizure. 

Wind turbines that are not on wind farms are not subject to the same planning regulations as wind farms. If a turbine is in the wrong position in relation to the sun, it could create a strobe effect. This could trigger a seizure for some people with photosensitive epilepsy.

If you live in the UK and have concerns about a planned or existing wind farm, you may wish to contact the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), who can provide contact details of specific wind farm operators.

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Our thanks

Epilepsy Action would like to thank Professor G F A Harding, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Neurophysiology, Aston University and also Professor Stefano Seri, Professor of Clinical Neurophysiology at Aston University and Consultant at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust for their contribution to this information.

This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated March 2012
    To be reviewed March 2015

Comments: read the 1 comments or add yours

Comments

The sunlight through the trees is a trigger for me, particularly in winter when there are no leaves on the trees to block the light out. I spend most of my journeys with my hands over my eyes or my eyes closed behind sunglasses. The same goes for the railings. There are more things on this page that trigger my seizures but nobody ever actually believes me about the sunlight through the trees, even though they've witnessed it.

Submitted by Kat on

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